Needed: cars to fit all; evaluations of the 1995 Mazda Millenia and Chevrolet Impala SS; Evaluation by Maynard M. Gordon (Dealer Business 9/94)




    TOOLING UP THE EXPRESSWAY IN A SPANKING-NEW Chevrolet Impala

SS, we wrenched ourselves out of visions of motoring life in the

new century.



    It wasn't as difficult as it sounds. We had just driven a

1995 Mazda Millenia. Like day and night, you say? From the

futuristic state-of-the-art Millenia to the bygone-era Impala.

From space-age styling for the 21st century to Cleopatra's barge.

From tomorrow to yesteryear. 



    A week in the Millenia, which became the Mazda flagship after

the Amati franchise was scrubbed, was like a vivid wake-up call.

Millenia, thanks to its unique Miller cycle engine and a design

that maximizes interior roominess, is a big leap ahead in the

new-car world.



    For the hotly competitive $ 25,000-plus luxury compact

segment, Millenia delivers a bell-ringing package. Cockpit

layout, quiet but firm ride, leather seats equal to anything in

the segment, you name it, Mazda has not stinted and would have

blessed Amati dealers with an entry-level equal to any.



    In fact, there are Mazda dealers out there who still think

Amati should be revived. But Mazda's Ford controllers, who marvel

at Millenia's breakthroughs and are applying as many as possible

to coming Lincolns and Jaguars, won't sit still for Amati II. "He

who pays the fiddler calls the tune," or some such.



    American engineer Ralph H. Miller first developed the concept

of compressing intake charge and altering valve timing to achieve

higher output from less displacement, thus reducing fuel

consumption by up to 15 percent. Mazda added a Lyshholm

compressor to force larger amounts of air into the cylinders.

Both Miller-cycle and Lyshold-compressor are world firsts--and

frankly, guys, the Millenia S with the 2.3-liter 210-h.p.

Miller-cycle V-6 engine is a true delight to move.



    "This is the only Japanese sedan that tells you its designers

were allowed to put their best work into production," says

Automobile Magazine. High praise, and deserved.



    Mazda Motor of America President Kazuo (Sonny) Sonoguchi, who

is in charge of leading the auto maker out of a crunch which a

flood of restyled cars and trucks in 1992 only intensified, has

pitched his pricing strategy at being affordable to buyers aged

35 to 45.



    The Miller-cycle Millenia S is stickered at $ 31,400, but

there's a base cloth-trim model with a normally aspirated

2.5-liter 170-h.p. V-6 at $ 25,995 (a leather-trim base car is $

28,300).



    Millenia, moreover, entered the world with a $ 329-a-month

lease package--an incentive Sonoguchi thinks will help sell

24,000 units this year, mostly in major metro markets. It's

priced to sell from the outset, and Mazda dealers are scrambling

for Miller-cycle S models, as might be expected from a dealer

body and owner field used to what the Germans call "etwas neues"

(something new).



    Mazda's boasts for Millenia include, by the way, smaller gaps

between door panels than Mercedes-Benz; manufacturing goals at

the Hofu II plant in Japan equal to that attained by the first

Lexus 400 (54 defects per 100 vehicles); rubber-mounted

windshield motor and wipers to reduce noise, and "touchbutton"

radio controls coupled with an octopus-like cupholder mechanism

that will thrill one-year-olds.



    Turn now to the $ 23,611 Impala SS, also introduced this past

spring. Both the Millenia and Impala were black and came equipped

with leather seats, but beyond that, the differences were

humongous, even if both offered such givens as four-wheel

anti-lock brakes and dual air bags.



    A Caprice derivative, powered by the 260-h.p. V-8 Corvette

engine, Impala appeals to upper-middle-class types who like their

wheels big, bigger and biggest. It springs from the Caprice line

that so many cops drive, but sports Impala reindeer logos on the

hubcaps, which decorate special 17-inch wheels and tires.



    Even more distinctively, unlike the front-drive Millenia,

Impala retains the rear-drive transmission which allows optimum

towability and torque control. The thrust of the 5.7-liter V-8 is

obviously meant for Impala choosers, who want to seat six in

comfort while carrying all their luggage and even golf bags in

the trunk. The Impala bears a curb weight of 4,218 lbs., compared

to the Millenia's 3,216.



    Sounds like a time warp, but it really wasn't, even after a

week in the Millenia. After all, this is a diverse world, and

different strokes for different folks do give life and the

marketplace its variety and spice.